What was your earliest memory? It is my four-year-old’s memory of when I staged a play at my Catholic kindergarten.
Did you go through training/university or straight into work? I graduated from Kobe mercantile academy and qualified as a merchant cadet. But after graduation, I ended up becoming a shipbroker without getting working experience at sea. The success of a Japanese broker depended on the good relationships he built with his clients, and this involved a lot of entertainment. I did not have the making of a good broker as I did not spend much time entertaining.
Who have been your mentors? Two senior tanker chartering brokers with whom I worked for eight years.
Ambition or talent, which is more important? Both elements are equally important, but when I recruit young people, I prefer their talent to their ambition. But talent is very difficult to define, it has a broad meaning.
What else would you have done if you hadn’t gone into shipping? Perhaps I would have succeeded at my father’s job as a public accountant.
What is your biggest extravagance? I bought two brand-new apartments in Tokyo for investment purposes as well as my residential house.
How do you relax? Dining and wining and golfing with college classmates and colleagues.
What would like to own that you do not possess? A beach house at my home town.
Where and when are you happiest? When I have made good deals with reliable foreign clients. Also relaxing at swimming pools or beaches with good views of foreign countries’ landscapes.
Nobutaka Mukae, 63, is one of the few Japanese shipping players prepared to be critically outspoken about the industry. Fukuoka-born Mukae qualified as a seafarer, although he never went to sea. He began as a tanker broker, but left after eight years because of the demanding nature of having to cover the Asian, European and US markets at the same time.
After two years working in the property market in Hawaii, Mukae returned to Japan to become a trader in a small firm. He had not wanted to go back into shipping, but the trading job proved unstable, so he became an S&P broker in charge of Kumiai Senpaku’s account, joining the company in 1994. He describes his early years there as “tough”, because ideas he proposed were turned down by management as not in line with traditional Japanese shipping practices. In 2002, the way he handled two vessel accidents led to his promotion. Seven years later, Mukae was appointed the fourth president of Kumiai Senpaku, in which he has a stake of around 10%.
Under his stewardship Kumiai Senpaku began to fix out ships to non-Japanese companies and in 2010 contracted a South Korean shipyard to build capesizes for the first time. It also diversified its fleet into niche vessels such as bitumen carriers and a ro-pax.
What would you change in shipping if you could? It may be impossible but my wish is to get rid of unethical villains in the maritime industry, those who have walked away without any remorse or guilt. I would like to create a working community/environment confined to professionals and those with ethical mindsets.
Is politics important to you? Yes, it is somewhat important to me in general and in the scope of business. Otherwise I am not so much interested in supporting a particular political party.
Which four people, living or dead, would you like to invite to dinner? My parents and grandparents, who have already passed away.
What would your 20-year-old self say to you today if you met? “Well done.”
What keeps you awake at night? Troubles concerning business and my company as well as family future issues.
What are your favourite song, book and film? Japanese pop songs in the 1980s/1990s, history books and Samurai movies.
What is the most important lesson you have learnt? To be honest and patient. Do not look back to the past and keep moving forward.
What are your best and worst characteristics? Generosity, having an open mind and being down to earth and easygoing are my best. Impatience and emotionally excessive instinctive responses are my worst.
What is your greatest achievement so far? Becoming the president of our company and making the transition for Kumiai Senpaku from a blindly and excessively locally oriented company into a global player. We are now working with new Chinese charterer Oriental Energy, and oil majors such as Total and Equinor and Epic Gas. I do not want to invest in new, expensive ships and incur a huge debt and burden the next generation. However, I am interested in dual-fuel ships and niche vessels. I am willing to invest in new tonnage if it does not require a big budget and is “capital safe” — meaning there is the back-up of charter contracts.
What has been your greatest disappointment? Contracting a couple of hyper-expensive newbuildings at the peak of the market in 2007-08 just before the financial crisis in October 2008, which led to the cancelling of long-term charters.
What ambitions do you still have? To create a smooth succession to the next generation, including finding a successor to take over my legacy related to new Chinese business. I also want to build a highly innovative and green ship fully compliant with 2020 emission regulations under proper charter back-up.